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The emotional power of poetry: Neural circuitry, psychophysiology, compositional principles

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Wassiliwizky,  E.
Department of Language and Literature, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Max Planck Society;
Freie Universität Berlin, External Organizations;

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Wagner,  Valentin
Department of Language and Literature, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Max Planck Society;

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Menninghaus,  W.
Department of Language and Literature, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Wassiliwizky, E., Koelsch, S., Wagner, V., Jacobsen, T., & Menninghaus, W. (2017). The emotional power of poetry: Neural circuitry, psychophysiology, compositional principles. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 12(8), 1229-1240. doi:10.1093/scan/nsx069.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002D-4F9C-4
Abstract
It is a common experience-and well established experimentally-that music can engage us emotionally in a compelling manner. The mechanisms underlying these experiences are receiving increasing scrutiny. However, the extent to which other domains of aesthetic experience can similarly elicit strong emotions is unknown. Using psychophysiology, neuroimaging, and behavioral responses, we show that recited poetry can act as a powerful stimulus for eliciting peak emotional responses, including chills and objectively measurable goosebumps that engage the primary reward circuitry. Importantly, while these responses to poetry are largely analogous to those found our music, their neural underpinnings show important differences, specifically with regard to the crucial role of the nucleus accumbens. We also go beyond replicating previous music-related studies by showing that peak aesthetic pleasure can co-occur with physiological markers of negative affect. Finally, the distribution of chills across the trajectory of poems provides insight into compositional principles of poetry.